The Disconnect of Marketing Attribution

Timm Cuzzo
July 10, 2018

A couple of years ago I uttered the following statement on stage “marketers, and the media, like to create problems that they will solve for you…on your budget”.

One of the biggest “problems” we marketers have created lately, in my opinion, is marketing attribution. It came in hot early last year and like all great buzzwords in our industry, they’ve garnered the focus of our conversations as far as our marketing strategies go.

This article is not intended to bash marketing attribution whatsoever, I feel the following things should be addressed if we’re focusing on the customer journey as a whole:

1.    Marketing Attribution: Defined … and Explained? 

Let’s use the Wikipedia definition just to all get on the same page here (being on that page when it comes to attribution in our industry has sparked many a debate):“In marketing, attribution is the identification of a set of user actions (“events” or “touchpoints”) that contribute in some manner to a desired outcome, and then the assignment of a value to each of these events. Marketing attribution provides a level of understanding of what combination of events in what particular order influence individuals to engage in  desired behavior, typically referred to as a conversion.”

Thanks for nothing Wikipedia! Clearly, a marketer wrote that. My good friend Dan Moore, president of Vistadash, in this earlier blog post from PERQ, that does a better job. Let’s put it in the context of the car shopper.

“Multi-touch attribution works by showing dealerships the path each individual buyer took on this journey from start to purchase. If I see an online car shopper went to, then got pulled back in by paid search ranking, then went to, and then finally ended up at the dealer…. well, I have a little more insight into what helps sell cars,” Dan said. “That path from first online impression to the dealership is the biggest thing car dealers are looking to understand and puzzle out right now, and multi-touch attribution tracking is how they can do it.”

Where this gets tricky is connectivity, you see all the companies out there that list your inventory, your ads or your paid social posts rarely share their data one another. Heck, your CRM only tells you where the lead came in from, not where it may have originated. So, companies and products are popping up to help solve that problem, like Vistadash, which works to pull as much marketing information in as possible and present it in a holistic way that a dealer can digest.

But Dan said something in that quote that stands out to me and I consider it a bit of a disconnect, “I have a little more insight into what helps sell cars”. Everything I have read (by folks in our industry) marketing attribution focuses on marketing sources, first touch to the last touch in the funnel until they reach the dealership. To me, that doesn’t provide any insight on what sells the car. Marketing attribution tells me what messages/product and which channels provide the most INTEREST. While I know, this will be contested by some of my peers, prospective customers walking in the doors of your dealership haven’t bought anything… yet.  The customer’s journey is only at the half-way point.

2.    So, Marketing Attribution Doesn’t Measure Everything? 

No, I don’t believe it does if you are of the belief that marketing attribution is covering all the bases of the customer journey from the start of their research through purchase. Let me make my case. We all know shoppers are spending serious amounts of time doing their research online but did you know many show up at the dealership without ever contacting the dealer through a lead form, phone call, or chat? So, if marketing attribution is based on measuring actions or events, you may only be looking at clicks and ad impressions. That’s not really closing the loop to a sale.

54% of shoppers will show up at the dealership without any contact prior to their arrival. (Google ThinkDealer stats 2017)

So, attribution reporting can be very important when assessing your advertising dollar investments but are you missing a key ingredient to the overall success of the dealership? Will attribution, like big data distract you from what’s happening on the showroom floor with those shoppers? Will attribution really matter if you’re not tracking 100% of your showroom traffic? How many people really walked in today (walk-ins, appointments, be-backs)? How many manager intros are happening? Are those intros increasing the number of test drives? How many deals got written up? What’s the REAL closing ratio as it pertains to showroom traffic? If we know that more than half of our traffic is just showing up unannounced, what accountability to do we have in place to track it to ensure every customer is being greeted by a sales professional, introduced by a manager, given a test drive, received a proposal, and logged properly in the CRM?

Will Brent stop asking questions? (No… don’t be silly)

The way I see it is if you are not looking at what’s happening with shoppers when they arrive at your dealership then everything else is irrelevant. The questions you should be asking need to focus on the sales process, customer experience, and most importantly accountability. We are spending too much time analyzing one cog (marketing spend/performance) in a larger machine. Marketers are creating problems, that they’ll solve for you, on your budget. The most important part of your marketing strategy is the moment they walk through the door of your dealership, not how they got there because, again, they haven’t bought anything…yet. If your customer experience isn’t wired tight, sales process not be championed by management and your sales floor stinks of “every salesperson for themselves” then every dollar spent and every click tracked means nothing. Your burning through money and opportunities.

Work on building the best in-store experience before worrying about how the customers arrived online or otherwise. Our own Mark Stringfellow said it best in an earlier post, “the loop of attribution won’t close until your sales floor does”.

Start measuring your sales floor performance here –

Timm Cuzzo

Timm is COO of Nextup, leads the Product Team, and is passionate about marketing.

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